Choreographer Germaine Acogny on contemporary African dance

February 2007 -

"Contemporary dance has experienced an explosion in Africa in the past ten years. Not only theatre programmers are curious, but the general public as well. One of the positive effects of globalisation, although we need to stay alert. Each company should safeguard its own identity, but I am positive about the developments."


Scene from Waxtaan

Germaine Acogny is choreographer and artistic leader of the Senegalese dance group Jant-Bi. Acogny made the choreography for the Sahel opera that will premiere on 17 February. She has performed throughout the world for many years and is considered the founder of modern African dance. Late in the 1960s Acogny was already experimenting with new types of movement that were based on traditional West African dance. She teases African politicians in her newest production, Waxtaan. "Have you ever heard African politicians debating? Empty phrases and bombastic texts framed in excessive gesturing. I had to choreograph it! African politicians would do better to start dancing, by the way: the universal language of dance is understood much better by most Africans than what they are saying."

Marice Béjart and Senegal's President Leopold Sedar Senghor established a school of dance in Dakar in the early 1980s where Acogny taught. She now has her own school, Ecole des Sables. Acogny believes that many contemporary African choreographers work virtually the same way the big shots of Western dance do. "A Forsythe and a Kylian also search for beauty in movement and use theatrical resources to reinforce dance as a form of expression. Naturally, we in Africa absorbed this influence and luckily many African choreographers no longer experience the traditions as restrictive. In my work I have always deconstructed tradition and then rebuilt it by combining modern movements with African rituals and a sense of community. Africa has a strong rhythmic tradition and that will always be important, but the search for new expressions has now brought a new architecture to African dance."